Navy Orders Deeper Probe Into Virus-Hit Carrier, Delaying Decision on Fired Commander

April 30, 2020 Updated: April 30, 2020

The civilian head of the Navy has ordered a deeper review of the controversial events involving the virus-hit aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt that resulted in the ship’s commander being fired.

An initial inquiry, completed this week, may have recommended the reinstatement of Captain Brett Crozier, who was fired over an email that was leaked to the press.

However, acting Secretary of the Navy James E. McPherson said on April 29 that the preliminary inquiry left “unanswered questions” that could only be answered by a deeper investigation.

The carrier is still sidelined in Guam but is now moving sailors back aboard after the whole crew was tested and the ship cleaned, according to the latest Navy statement. The only active U.S. military service member to die of COVID-19 so far was onboard the carrier—echoing the warnings of Crozier’s leaked message.

The scope of the deeper review has not been precisely explained but will include “the sequence of events, actions, and decisions of the chain of command” surrounding the outbreak.

The controversy surrounding the outbreak started when an emailed letter from Crozier to leaders calling for more help to deal with the blossoming outbreak was leaked to the media.

Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly fired Crozier, saying that the captain knew the message would be leaked, accusing him of breaking the chain of command. Modly said that Crozier’s message created the false impression that actions were not being taken—which were already underway.

Modly flew to Guam to justify his unpopular decision to the crew and lambasted the captain in a speech that was then leaked to the media. That stirred further outrage and ultimately prompted his resignation.

After Modly stepped down, McPherson took over, responsible for unpicking the chain of events that had led to his appointment.

In a statement on April 28, McPherson said: “After carefully reviewing the preliminary inquiry into the events surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71), the Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Mike Gilday, provided me with his recommendations. Following our discussion, I have unanswered questions that the preliminary inquiry has identified and that can only be answered by a deeper review.

“Therefore, I am directing Adm. Gilday to conduct a follow-on command investigation,” McPherson said. “This investigation will build on the good work of the initial inquiry to provide a more fulsome understanding of the sequence of events, actions, and decisions of the chain of command surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt.”

The initial report recommended the reinstatement of the captain, according to anonymous Navy officials who spoke to The Associated Press.

Talking to the press on April 29, President Donald Trump wouldn’t be drawn on whether he thought Crozier should be reinstated as the commanding officer of the carrier, saying only, “I have my feelings on it.”

Trump said he didn’t know Crozier but reiterated previous remarks, saying, “I think he’s a very good man who had a very bad day.”

Follow Simon on Twitter: @SPVeazey